Catholic Pacifist Socialism: An Excerpt from Benjamin J. Salmon's Court Martial Proceedings

Ben Salmon, American, Catholic, conscientious objector, and socialist.

[Benjamin J. Salmon (1888-1932): “Salmon was born and raised in a working-class Catholic family, and became an office clerk with the Colorado and Southern Railroad. Outraged by the Ludlow Massacre, he became more active in populist causes such as unionism and the single tax. When President Woodrow Wilson ordered a draft, Salmon was one of a number of Americans to refuse to cooperate.” (Wikipedia) Likewise, Ben Salmon was also a fierce critic of traditional Just War Theory within the Church. Many of his writings, such his letters to President Woodrow Wilson, his defense of his pacifism, and pamphlets such as Tax the Rich to Pay for the War and Killing The Wrong Men can be found here and on the Internet Archive.]

Q. You are Benjamin J. Salmon, the accused in this case?

A. Yes sir.

ACCUSED: Now, if I do not pursue this properly, if you will Just inform me.

I wish to testify that, concerning Charge 1, Specification 1, desertion, I was illegally drafted into the service, illegally inducted. I did hot answer the summons because it was unlawfully drawn, did not state the facts, and if I had answered it I would thereby violate the jurisdiction of the Federal court of Colorado, and at the same time jeopardize the interests of my bondsmen. I had, a few months previously, been sentenced to nine months in the county jail at Denver for refusing to answer the questionnaire, released on twenty-five hundred dollar bond on an appeal taken to the upper court, the Circuit Court of Appeals. Rule XIII of the Selective Service Regulations, which I will read later on to save burdening the record, provides that in case, among others, of anyone out on bond, they shall be placed at the bottom of Class IV until the final disposition of their case, and the intent of that provision is obvious, because if anyone could be taken at random and placed into the army they would thereby be removed from the jurisdiction of the particular court that had them in custody, and also in the case of anybody so handled, they would jeopardize the interests of their bondsmen, whether the bond would be twenty-five hundred dollars, or a thousand dollars, or ten thousand dollars. As I did not belong to the army, I could not desert it, and I gave notification of where I could be found in case the authorities wished to apprehend me. When I was taken into custody, removed to Fort Logan, I endeavored to place the facts in the case before the commanding officer, but he would not permit it. I had only seven days in which to take an appeal to the district board. I was subsequently transferred to Camp Funston, Kansas, on the 22nd day of May, and again I attempted to acquaint the authorities of the facts in the case, that they might know the exact status. I was denied this opportunity, kept in the guard house for a considerably greater length of time than that in which I was allowed to make the appeal.

According to the Manual for Courts-Martial, only those legally drafted into the service are subject to the Articles of War, and subject to the jurisdiction of the military authorities, and for that reason I did not consider myself at any time, nor do I now consider myself as subject to your jurisdiction. I did not consider any of the army officers as my superior officers, but I have always endeavored to the best of my ability to be respectful and courteous towards them, although there have been instances that would try a the patience of any man, in or out of the army. Concerning this particular specification of Charge 2, Violation of the 63rd Article of War, I did not behave myself with disrespect toward Captain Jackson R. Day. Moreover, I did not consider him my superior officer, nor did I, as charged, contemptuously leave him after speaking to him and smiling and laughing in a cynical manner in the presence of other enlisted men who were standing nearby. On this particular morning I was called into the office of Lieutenant Wigbels. Captain Day asked me my name, my religion, why I would not go to war. He asked me if I was a Socialist, and I said, “It depends upon what you mean by a Socialist.” The reason I gave him that answer is, because a thousand people will have a thousand different conceptions of Socialism, and that is particularly true in the Catholic Church, of which I am a member. Ordinarily, Catholics have a horror of the very word “Socialism”, but my conception of Socialism, and the reason I made that answer to Captain Day, saying, “It depends upon what you mean by a Socialist”,— my conception of Socialism is merely the Brotherhood of Man, as Christ taught.

Then when he asked me if I carried a red card in the Socialist party, I told him “yes”. He said, “That is all”, but he gave a demonstration of being angered by the fact that I was a member of the Socialist Party. Whether he was mad or not, I do not know, but he so exhibited himself. When he said, “That is all” I left his office,~ left that office, rather,- it was Lieutenant Wigbels’ office, and as I passed along, going towards the door, quite a number of my comrades were seated around there, and I did, as I have been in the habit of doing, –I guess as everybody is in the habit of doing when they meet friends of theirs, — I merely looked in their direction and smiled and nodded and walked out.